A tale of guilt and redemption set in 1920s Alabama.
This is the story of Roscoe T Martin and the death that transforms his life. An electrician by trade, Roscoe is frustrated by life on the failing farm his wife inherited from her father. Roscoe decides that he can save the farm—and himself—by running power lines to his family’s property and its machinery. The farm does prosper for a time, but the reader knows from the novel’s opening line that this scheme will end in tragedy: “The electrical transformers that would one day kill George Haskin sat high on a pole about ten yards off the northeast corner of the farm where Roscoe T Martin lived with his family.” Roscoe goes to prison, where he examines his life as he waits for parole. As the narrative moves back and forth in time, Roscoe and his wife, Marie, share their perspectives on the past. That their recollections and viewpoints often diverge adds depth to this novel. Both are eloquent and acutely self-aware. This makes for some prose so lovely that it strains credulity. In a moment of reflection, Marie thinks, “She was losing herself, she knew, sinking into something untenable, a deep well with madness at its bottom. The feel of it—slippery, cool, damp—hung on her like the wash she no longer helped Moa hang on the line, rung to wrinkles and still dripping.” Roscoe’s jailhouse philosophizing also beggars belief, but more troubling is his lack of regard for Wilson, the farm manager tried and convicted as an accomplice and a man who, as an African-American, faces much harder punishment than Roscoe. This makes the beneficence and forgiveness Wilson and his family extend to Roscoe almost unbearable, and the ending is hobbled by complex machinations that would have been more at home in a Greek tragedy or a Restoration comedy.
Elegant to a fault. Lacking in heart.